Setting up a community led total sanitation (clts) monitoring system in Mauritania

Access to safe sanitation is a major challenge in Mauritania. According to JMP 2019, only 22 percent of the rural population and 67 percent of the urban population had access to an improved sanitation facility in 2015 (either individually or shared with other households). Open defecation is especially prevalent in rural areas, where it’s practiced by 61 percent of the population.


As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Mauritania’s target is to be Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2030 using CLTS - an innovative method whereby communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation (OD) and take their own action to become ODF.



Government of Mauritania





Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)









Akvo Flow

The challenge

Mauritania adopted CLTS in 2009. Spearheaded by UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Water and Sanitation soon joined the effort following a successful trial in the city of Rosso. Ever since, the Sanitation Directorate has been guiding the implementation of CLTS across the country.


While CLTS was developed in 2009, a 2013 evaluation of the programme found that the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system wasn’t very effective. Without a robust M&E strategy or system, behavioural change within the communities can’t be effectively monitored. The evaluation showed that most of the results numbers were extracted from the UNICEF programme database, which meant that country ownership was not accurately reflected in the implementation and monitoring of the programme. What’s more, the open defecation status used in the programme was questionable, and the work carried out by the government didn’t necessarily meet the international standards for improved sanitation facilities.


The Sanitation Directorate needed a more effective M&E strategy and a system in order to accurately and effectively monitor progress, better target communities in need of improved sanitation, and track their targets against SDG 6.

The partnership

UNICEF partnered with the Directorate of Sanitation and Akvo to develop a monitoring system. Together, we set up the system using the data journey methodology - Design, Capture, Understand and Act - to ensure success from implementation to impact. The ​data journey​ is aimed at helping organisations and governments ​design ​their programmes so that they can capture ​and ​understand ​reliable data which they can ​act ​upon.


Before starting the data collection, Akvo worked with the Sanitation Directorate to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each partner and the data needs and uses of the programme.


In the previous system, the data collection process wasn’t clearly aligned with the data needs, resulting in inefficient and inaccurate data collection. Together with the Sanitation Directorate and the regional (wilahya) representatives of water and sanitation, we redefined the roles and processes in conjunction with a review of the results monitoring framework and indicators. The guiding principle here was to ensure that the monitoring system was part of the implementing activities routine, so that the staff in charge of data collection would not have double work and the margin of error would be minimised. A capacity building scheme was also implemented in the design phase in order to train all stakeholders on their roles and tasks.


In the previous system, monitoring ended once a community was declared ODF. This is risky, as communities can go back to practicing open defecation for a number of reasons, such as a broken latrine. We implemented a six month monitoring phase after certification in order to ensure that a community remains ODF. The wilahyas were in charge of this monitoring phase, thereby strengthening the capacity of village committees to regulate sanitation and improve the quality of latrines built by the population.


CLTS has ten implementation steps in Mauritania. We therefore designed the survey to follow these steps and to ensure easy monitoring over time - once a village or community is registered, data collectors can return to that same data point and fill in the form that is specific to the CLTS step.



As described above, many stakeholders were involved in data collection. In the previous system, the data was first collected by local NGO staff and then entered into the UNICEF Excel file by the wilahya representatives. This produced double work and allowed for human error in data entry.


In the new system, the NGOs collect the data while triggering the community through the CLTS method, and then the wilahya representatives approve that data regionally and send it to the national level. This means that data does not have to be entered twice and the wilahya reps can supervise and validate data quality as it comes in.


Since many stakeholders are involved in data collection, the training of trainers methodology was chosen - each wilahya representative was trained to use the data collection app in a national training session. In turn, they were responsible for training the NGO staff in their region, supported by the national administrator of the system (based at the Sanitation Directorate). With everyone trained in the same way and using the same system, and with data validation processes implemented across the stakeholders, data quality can be ensured throughout. A guide and a presentation were also developed to facilitate the process of knowledge transfer, should staff change over time.


Since 2015, data has been collected on a continuous basis to show the development of CLTS activities.



Akvo supported the data cleaning, analysis and visualisation in this phase of the programme. Before data can be understood and acted upon, it needs to be cleaned to ensure reliability. In this programme, data cleaning was conducted during the capture and understand phase according to the following parameters:

  • Accuracy - Is all of the data in the same format?
  • Completeness - Are all the results in?
  • Timeliness - Has any data come in before collection?
  • Uniqueness - Is there any duplicate data?
  • Consistency - Are there temporal or spatial inconsistencies in the data?
  • Logic - Are there any logical flaws in the data?

Due to the complex nature of CLTS implementation - and the eleven different forms associated with each data point (one for registration, one for each CLTS implementation step) - it became very challenging for the administrator to keep on top of the cleaning. Another challenge was the involvement of the regional level for validation - this meant that data cleaning only occured during visits to the region, rather than on a regular basis.


To solve these challenges, we decided to set up an Access Database - this allowed stakeholders at all levels to see an overview of the data directly from the data collection tool. This made cleaning the data, and subsequently analysing and visualising it, much easier. Once clean, data analysis is automated so that the Sanitation Directorate can have immediate and regular updates on the status of OD in the communities.



Based on the monitoring system, the Sanitation Directorate are able to plan their resources according to the wilahyas that are behind in terms of implementation. They can also identify communities that are at risk of having open defecation again - in these cases, they can take preventative measures such as sensitisation activities.


By December 2015, Mauritania had a total of 2,443 ODF villages, or more than a third of the total number of rural villages, covering a population of 800,000 - roughly 40 percent - of Mauritania’s rural population. Based on the new monitoring system, Mauritania has a better grip on their progress towards SDG 6.

Lessons learned

Build upon existing systems

Rather than building an entirely new monitoring system, it’s important to assess what already exists and how it can be integrated into the new system. In this programme, we did evaluate the current monitoring efforts, but it would have been beneficial to actually start by digitising the paper-based monitoring system. This way, we could’ve more easily facilitated the stakeholders' understanding of the new system before we implemented it.


Always pilot before going national

In our eagerness to get a national monitoring system off the ground, we didn’t pilot the system beforehand. As a result, we didn’t have a clear idea of the capacity building that was needed within the Sanitation Directorate, and they didn’t have a clear idea of the technologies and processes that were being implemented. A pilot can ensure that this mutual understanding is established before the programme begins.


Less is more

During the design phase, it’s important to start with fewer indicators and gradually build them up from there. In this programme, we included all of the existing sanitation indicators from the SDs existing system, and ended up having to remove the unnecessary ones in the Understand phase of the partnership. The less is more rule is especially applicable for CLTS programmes, as each CLTS step has its own indicators. The resulting data can become overwhelming and hard to process.